BY Jennifer Allen in Reviews | 27 APR 11
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Sophia Schama

Städtische Galerie Dresden

BY Jennifer Allen in Reviews | 27 APR 11

Sophia Schama, Gras 85, 2005

Boomerang: Malerei 19982011 (Painting 19982011) was a fitting name for Sophia Schamas retrospective, which seemed to prefer a circular view of history to a linear one. Schama, who lives in Berlin, studied at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden from 1993 to 2000. As these dates indicate, the retrospective offered a slightly abbreviated review of her painterly oeuvre, which moves between abstraction and figuration, sometimes within a single canvas, predominantly in oil. Schama included paintings she completed after her first diploma in 1998, during her time as a master class student with Ralf Kerbach and after completing her studies. Instead of periodizing, the way the show was hung presented this past like a wonky time machine, jumping from, say, the greeny-orangey tubes in Carbon verstärkt 1 (Carbon Strengthened 1, 2001) to the two red Xs hovering over an ethereal landscape in Spielplatz 3 (Playground 3, 2010), which looks more like a shooting gallery for fairies.

Despite these jumps, a sense of déjà vu permeated the gallery since Schama often pursues the same motif sharks, stags, windows over years. While studying in Dresden, she began the semi-figurative Gras (Grass) series (1998ongoing), which now includes 240 paintings and counting. Excerpts from this series  and others were not presented together, as in a family tree, but appeared in distinct groups like gossiping cliques. Oberfläche 9, 11 and 14 (Surface, all 2002) respectively, creepy flesh tone, pink and grey capture the gradient of one colour: fading from the left and right sides of the canvas to a lighter centre. Despite the monochrome results, traces of previous layers of other colours  or perhaps old paintings lurk at the edges of these unframed canvases, which measure 50×65 cm. By contrast, the more recent Oberfläche 45 and 46 (both 2010) hanging in another room  were presented behind glass, in white frames. Oberfläche 45 is mostly fuchsia while Oberfläche 46 cant decide if its blue, grey or maybe light yellow. In both of these works the brushwork is more visible than any lurking traces of old paint.

Whatever the series, Schama multiplies layers with a host of techniques, from thick brushstrokes to ragged lines filled with Ben-Day dots. Her years of work on Gras have led to a novel method, which recalls cross-hatching. Instead of painting the lines to create the illusion of figuration, Schama often uses them to blend colours, as in Gras 85 (2005). Seen from a distance, this large-scale work could almost be a colour-field painting, shifting between pink, grey and black. Up close, the heavy brushstrokes appear as starbursts of colour with a haptic dimension. Ultimately, Schama lets the viewer decide which position  and which impression is best.

Jennifer Allen is a writer and critic based in Berlin.